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Function, Flavor, and Fermentation

Restore your health and savor the flavor by fermenting fresh herbs and enjoying them later.

| July/August 2019

Photo by Adobe Stock/Erik Reis 

My first “garden plant” was a pitiful potted basil plant I bought in college. I brought it home, watered it, and waited for it to grow. I imagined a large, bushy houseplant that would provide an abundance of leaves I would use for the gourmet meals I’d cook as soon as I moved on from my diet of daily quesadillas. Admittedly, I knew nothing about herbs, not even the difference between annuals and perennials. More specifically, I didn’t know that, unless picked, the annual basil would naturally flower and seed. Clearly, my goals were misaligned.

Fast forward a few years: My family moved into a house with a yard, and I began planning an herb garden. I imagined transforming the front lawn into an herbal apothecary for all of my culinary and medicinal aspirations. Those ambitions played out in one form or another, but not how I planned. I successfully grew culinary herbs, snipped them fresh, and dried them for later, but I am not an herbalist. I found my work with herbs and spices didn’t take form as tinctures, but as food.

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by the idea that our everyday food can also be our medicine. As the gardens grew bigger, my connection with real food became stronger, as did my relationship with flavor, and tasty morsels needed preservation. Enter fermentation. I want to share my journey into this captivating craft, specifically with medicinal herbs, as well as how you can become a practicing fermenter.

Fermentation 101

My journey into fermenting herbs began on a whim. After fermenting all the vegetables from the garden, I was exasperated by the high cost of pine nuts and Parmesan cheese for all the pesto I’d be making. On a whim, I decided to ferment it.

I fermented whole leaves and a “pesto” starter, which I could add pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan to as needed. Since I had always been disappointed in the flavor of dried basil and other delicate leaf herbs, my mind was blown.

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